Story Mapping Sea Level Rise: The History and Future of the Nantucket Whaling Museum

Nantucket Historical Association
Sponsor Liaison: Niles Parker, Ed Rudd
Student Team: Daniel Barmakian, Jeremy Bornstein, John Carrotta, Samantha Turner

The goal of this project was to create a tool for the Nantucket Historical Association to use to communicate with staff and others about the effects of rising sea levels on the Nantucket Whaling Museum and possible adaptation strategies therein. We examined data and projections on sea level rise in Nantucket, delved into the history of the Whaling Museum, examined the building’s vulnerabilities to flooding, and explored current and potential mitigation strategies. Working closely with NHA staff and town officials, we created an ArcGIS story map to assemble this research and present it in a compelling and visually appealing manner.


Story Mapping Sea Level Rise Report

Story Mapping Sea Level Rise Part 1 Presentation

Story Mapping Sea Level Rise Part 2 Presentation

Story Map

Executive Summary

            Sea level rise (SLR) and coastal flooding is a growing threat to Nantucket and its way of life. It can be difficult for Nantucketers to picture future effects of SLR and how the island may change. The Nantucket Historical Association gave us the task of creating a story map for use as a tool to aid the NHA in discussions of resilience in the face of SLR and its widespread impacts. While many are aware of the presence of SLR and flooding, the severity of SLR in the future is not as common knowledge. Using the Whaling Museum as a core case study, our goal was to create a prototype story map to communicate the effects of rising sea levels on the complex in an engaging, meaningful, and effective manner. We identified four objectives in accomplishing this:

  1. Establish the design criteria for the story map on sea level rise.
  2. Collect and collate the best available information (qualitative and quantitative) on the past and projected impacts of sea level rise on Nantucket’s downtown.
  3. Design, storyboard, test, and refine prototype story map designs through an iterative process guided by stakeholder and user feedback.
  4. Provide the NHA with a final story map, ensure it is properly hosted, and send them a detailed package of data, assets, and supplemental info from the development process.


            Through extensive discussion with key members of the NHA, we solidified design criteria such as our target audience, learning outcomes, and geographic scope; these criteria informed our choices of which qualitative and quantitative data and accounts, gleaned from the Association’s own archives and authoritative sources on SLR, were most prudent to include in our work. A rigorous storyboarding process guided us in deciding how to best present these and in what sequence, and by developing the resulting mockups into testable prototypes we were able to collect valuable feedback that would guide subsequent iterations of the interactive. Upon completion of our final map, we transferred ownership of it to the NHA alongside a detailed cache of all assets, records, and data which proved useful in its development in order to facilitate its final implementation and deployment at a later date.


            Beginning with the history of the Whaling Museum, our story map shows how vastly the museum has changed over the past 150 years, and includes projections to show that even more change in the future will be warranted as a response to sea level rise. Alongside historic photos, we use a schematic that progresses with time to demonstrate past changes to the property. Additionally, we present options that the NHA can take to protect the museum moving forwards. These are separated into time-framed categories of short- (by 2030), medium- (2050-2070), and long-term (2100+) solutions and adaptation strategies. While these intervals are not contiguous, they are based on the time frames used by the Coastal Resilience Plan which we continued to use to maintain uniformity with the shared primary source data. The strategies presented in the story map were taken and adapted from documents such as Floodproofing Non-Residential Buildings (FEMA, 2013), Nantucket Resilience Design Standards (Resilient Nantucket, 2021), and the NPS Guidelines on Flood Adaptation for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings (NPS, 2021).

           Short-term strategies reflect low-to-moderate cost wet and dry floodproofing measures that deal with moderate flooding such as the Whaling Museum has seen and will continue to see. Most of this flooding is from storm runoff, backup of water systems, and groundwater breaching through the floor. Medium-term strategies are generally more expensive and are designed with more extreme flooding in mind. More extreme flooding includes both height of the water and frequency as SLR continues to increase. Finally, long-term strategies are designed for the most extreme scenarios based on NOAA SLR projections. These are the most expensive and disruptive to the property, and are especially difficult to implement given their respective engineering challenges along with the historic significance of the Candle Factory. While these strategies would see implementation only far into the future, planning for them now is critical to assure that this historic property becomes more resilient.


           The Nantucket Historical Association may implement our story map in any number of ways to present the history, the present state, and the future prospects of the Whaling Museum, and to inspire educated action toward preservation. In particular, we hope that the story map can serve the NHA as a tool to raise awareness in the following areas:

  • It may serve NHA staff, volunteers, and members of the board by demonstrating how the properties of the Whaling Museum have had major changes over the course of its history and will continue to change in response to SLR. In doing so, it will teach that adaptation measures are not to be feared and will be key to the building’s preservation.
  • It may serve as a conversation starter for preservation planners, particularly those grappling with SLR: rising tides have already shown significant effects on Nantucket and these are only projected to get worse as time goes on. The Whaling Museum, being in a high-risk area will see the forefront of these threats in the future. Strategies for short, medium, and long term adaptations in response to increased flooding are topics of discussion for the NHA and may prompt similar discussion for sites across the island.
  • It may serve as a brief case study on flooding and resilience for additional parties interested and affected by SLR, such as neighbors, town officials, residents, and visitors.
  • It may serve as a shorthand reference for the NHA utilities team on present water vulnerabilities within the museum, particularly those affecting the Candle Factory, and bring attention to correcting or otherwise safeguarding them through future work.
  • It may serve as a high-level overview to be used by planners and museum directors during future museum adaptation efforts, expansion, or renovations. As a reminder of hazards in the near and far future, this map can guide large-scale decisions about ways to modify the museum towards those which are sustainable and most effective at protecting the museum’s valuable artifacts for posterity.
  • It may serve, at the Association’s discretion, as a publicly-available online resource or exhibit to educate broader audiences about the dangers of sea level rise using the museum as a real-world example and powerful focal point.
  • It may serve as a strong primer for contractors and other workers making adjustments to the museum or performing regular maintenance going forwards. In this context, it can provide historical background and an overview of many specifics and vulnerabilities of the building in short order; this information would ensure that construction work proceeds in a resilience-conscious way, and, as an added benefit, that the historical intricacies of the building are respected when selecting building materials and construction techniques reducing the chance of damage to the building or its character.

            As part of our research into potential mitigation strategies with the goal of stimulating discussion within the NHA, we identifited several resilience pathways the organization may consider investigating, all of which are derived from the standards of applicable flooding treatments outlined by the NPS. These include temporary protective measures, landscape adaptations, dry floodproofing, wet floodproofing, basement and foundation modifications, and elevation. As climate change volatility and SLR projections portray a grim future for Nantucket, the NHA is proactively gathering data on how to best protect the Whaling Museum complex on Nantucket. While the year intervals mirror those used in the Coastal Resiliency report and are in no way hard dates, the NHA may consider implementing any of these treatments if they see fit.

Short Term Strategies (by 2030)

  • Green Infrastructure: Consider installing landscape adaptations
    • Ex: Rain gardens, planter boxes, bioswales, and vertical vegetation
  • Wet Floodproofing: Inspection and evaluation of wall foundation strength of Candle Factory
  • Wet Floodproofing: Wrapping adhesive waterproofing membrane along areas that collect water prior to storms
  • Dry Floodproofing: Use flood gates and sump pumps within the Candle Factory
  • Dry Floodproofing: Ensure downspouts are clear of debris and draining away from the foundation
  • Consider the benefits of installing either backflow valves or installing flood gates in lower elevation toilets
  • Evaluate the integrity of masonry work; repoint using appropriate grade hydraulic lime
  • Elevate and rebuild the property on 4 Whalers Lane

            Because most of the present-day flooding is a result of storm events and surface runoff from roofs, the short-term strategies will continue to be effective in mitigating water issues. These are presently urgent as they address flooding the NHA is already grappling with and will see more frequently in the future. Having mostly low to moderate costs, these options could be implemented with relatively little time spent planning.

Medium Term Strategies (2050-2070)

  • Dry Floodproofing: Examine the structural integrity of the masonry
  • Dry Floodproofing: Consider anchoring the Candle Factory to its foundation to prevent shifting or collapse
  • Dry Floodproofing: Applying a waterproof coating on the foundations of each structure within the complex that is compatible with the historic masonry of the buildings
  • Wet Floodproofing: Create an elevated floor by several inches in Candle Factory to allow water to run underneath
  • Using a silicone-based brick sealant on the interior and exterior exposed masonry
  • Elevation of the Discovery Center, making the first four feet waterproof

            The implementation of medium-term solutions is when more significant changes to the museum infrastructure come into play. Based on NOAA projections, the museum will begin to exhibit severe effects from SLR and the exterior of the Whaling Museum will be at substantially higher risk than it will have been in the short-term phase. The NHA may want to consult with material scientists to develop pertinent solutions in addition to those presented here.

Long Term (2100+)

  • Elevate the Candle Factory onto a new foundation and allow water to flow underneath
  • Retrofit the Candle Factory on a buoyant foundation
  • Relocation of the Candle Factory Building

            Long term solutions can be the hardest to envision and accept. Not only are they very expensive to execute, but imagining the relocation of the Candle Factory and museum will be difficult for many people to contemplate; indeed, one of the challenges facing the NHA is a certain sense of denial among many of its stakeholders. While many current NHA staff may never see these types of strategies actually implemented, it is critical to begin conversations about these realities in the present in order to assure the ultimate preservation of the museum.